Space Solar Power Being Considered at High Level

The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates the “Space Solar Power D3” team on making it to the winners circle in a Department of Defense (DOD) competition to find promising new technology ideas that could simultaneously advance diplomacy, development and defense. Space Solar Power (SSP) is among only six winners out of 500 entries for the DOD’s first innovation challenge for the D3 (Diplomacy, Development, Defense) Summit. The SSP team proposal is titled “Carbon-Free Energy for Global Resilience and International Goodwill.” Their team has won the opportunity to present to the highest-level gathering of the three departments that are primarily responsible for U.S. foreign policy.

Winning proposal briefings will be made Wednesday, March 2 to representatives of the Secretary of Defense, the Vice Joint Chief of Staff, DOD senior leaders, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the U.S. Department of State. The presentation will happen at the State Department and a live stream can be found at

Space Solar Power gathers energy from sunlight in space and transmits it wirelessly to Earth. SSP can solve our energy and greenhouse gas emissions problems and provide large quantities of energy to each and every person on Earth with very little environmental impact. This will be the first time that space solar power is briefed at such a high level.

The space solar power D3 team includes members of the Air Force’s Air University, the Naval Research Lab, Northrop Grumman, NASA, the Join Staff Logistics and Energy division, DARPA, the Army, and the Space Development Steering Committee. NSS wishes them the best of luck in their presentation on March 2.

D3 team member Col. M. V. “Coyote” Smith, a professor at Air University’s School of Advanced Air and Space Power Studies, states: “When you think about what could advance U.S. diplomacy, development, and defense objectives simultaneously, what could be better than creating a source of global, constant green energy? Energy is going to be a $21 Trillion industry. Imagine if American industry was supplying green energy to the billions of people in the developing world. The studies suggest that could mean five million new high tech jobs in satellite manufacture and launch. The world of 2050 might require as much as 55 terawatts of energy. The Space-Based Solar Power resource is huge, many times the global requirement, with about 330 terawatts waiting to be tapped in Geostationary orbit alone.”

Smith continued: “A government-led demo would be the first step to retire the technical risk with commercial companies following quickly. The demo itself would have a strategic effect on our aerospace industry–generating about $5 Billion for satellite design and manufacture and another $5 Billion for the launch industry. We estimate the demo alone would generate approximately 171,000 new jobs.”

Smith added: “We’re not the only one in the game. In fact, at the moment, we’re behind in what we believe is the only space race that really matters. The Chinese have an increasingly robust program. So do the Japanese. Europe, too. But not the U.S. The Chinese proponents have it right that this is the most ambitious space project in history, and that Space-Based Solar Power will trigger a new industrial revolution and determine who will be the global leader. Space-Based Solar Power is not a competition in which we can afford to come in second.”

“Space Solar Power may be the answer to both the energy crisis and climate change,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “We have worked for many years to place SSP on the national and international agendas, including working with India’s former President Dr. APJ Kalam to begin a US-India collaboration. NSS is fighting for a prosperous hopeful future for all of humanity.”

In December, NSS leaders Mark Hopkins, Dr. Feng Hsu who is chairman of the NSS Space Solar Power Committee, and Dr. Don Flournoy who runs the International SunSat Design Competition that brings forward the best new ideas in SSP, traveled to China. There they met with Chinese leaders and their renewable energy and space solar power experts to establish a new initiative, the International Consortium for Space Solar Power Research and Development. NSS is also working with Space Canada to support the International SunSat Design Competition.

“We at NSS firmly believe,” says Dr. Feng Hsu, “that SSP is a viable and potentially permanent solution to address many humanity’s top challenges regarding environmental, economic or even global geopolitical issues.” He added, “SSP certainly deserves attention by the world community at the highest level. The time for a full-scale SSP demonstration and R&D program has been long overdue since the 1979 NASA-Department of Energy studies, and the time has now finally arrived for the U.S. government and the space and energy industries to take concerted actions in support of SSP.”  Feng concludes, “I have no doubt that if we in the U.S. continue to ignore the great idea of harnessing the Sun’s energy in a massive and unparalleled scale from space, we will risk being left further behind by the next technological and industrial revolution to be brought about by cheap, clean and abundant energy from space!” “National Security demands that America fund SSP research,” said Hopkins. NSS has created the world’s largest online library on SSP at

Space Invaders: The Mojave Entrepreneurs

From Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President:

A lot of things are happening related to space that don’t get covered by the mainstream media. This 13-minute video produced by the Economist magazine travels to Mojave Spaceport in California where young engineers at space startups are building the future.  Companies featured include XCOR, Virgin Galactic, and Masten Aerospace. The video includes interesting footage I’ve never seen before. Ad Astra!

We Are Winning: Obama and NSS Space Policy

From NSS Executive Vice President Dale Skran:

NSS Chair of the Executive Committee Mark Hopkins frequently speaks and writes on the general topic that “We are winning.” A great example can be found in a recent interview with President Obama in Popular Science Magazine:

Popular Science: You’ve also advocated the development of a private space industry to work alongside and complement government efforts. What is your vision for space exploration and commercialization? Who does what?

Barack Obama: I’ve laid out a vision for space exploration where our astronauts travel out into the solar system not just to visit, but to stay. To build a sustainable human presence in space, we’ll need a thriving private-sector space economy. I see the expanding space industry as an addition to, not a replacement for, the extraordinary work of NASA. With industry taking over tasks like ferrying cargo and crew to the International Space Station, NASA can focus even more intensely on the most challenging exploration missions, like landing astronauts on Mars or learning more about Earth and the rest of our solar system.

As we set our sights toward other planets, we can also create good jobs here on this one. American companies have begun to reclaim the lucrative market for launching commercial satellites. That’s just one example of the way that a growing space economy can help American workers succeed.

President Obama’s answer is not that different from ideas found in NSS position papers or text that appears on the NSS website ( The tagline “Not just to visit, but to stay” appears prominently on the Alliance for Space Development (ASD) website which is a joint project of NSS and the Space Frontier Foundation. When the President of the United States is echoing our ideas as his own, I think we can once again say – “We are winning!”

You can help develop space settlements!

NSS Director Al Globus is working on a new space settlement design and you can easily help just by taking this short space settlement survey.

It’s a one page introduction followed by eight required and six optional questions. The survey usually takes less than ten minutes to complete. You will not be asked for contact information and there are no ads. Your answers will be used to help form the design of a new generation of space settlements!

Kalpana 2
Image courtesy Bryan Versteeg,

The Gravity of the National Space Society’s Vision

Thorne award
NSS Executive Committee Chairman Mark Hopkins Presents Space Pioneer Award to Dr. Kip Thorne

We, the members of the National Space Society, believe exploring the unknown is one of the things that drives our vision of “people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.” The recent discovery of gravitational waves by NSS Space Pioneer award recipient Dr. Kip Thorne is another giant leap forward.

We are very proud and honored to congratulate the amazing achievement of our NSS member Dr. Kip Thorne for his leading involvement in the creation of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) project. LIGO’s recent world-changing detection of the existence of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein a century ago in his General Relativity Theory is opening new eyes on the cosmos and the doors that will bring humanity closer to the NSS vision!

Regarding the grand NSS vision, Dr. Thorne remarked, “I think that it’s clear that it is attainable to colonize the solar system. Getting beyond the solar system is going to be exceedingly difficult. We are going to either require a lot of brute force over a period of several centuries or else a brilliant idea that none of us has grasped yet. The first thing is the solar system, but we have not been moving at anything like the pace that we could or we should.”

Thorne at ISDC

Dr. Thorne was honored at the National Space Society’s 2015 International Space Development Conference® (ISDC) in Toronto, Canada for his work with the movie Interstellar and spoke not only to the conference participants, but also to more than 400 Space Settlement Design Contest winning students from around the world.

Thorn at ISDC
At the Toronto ISDC, Dr. Thorne visited with the students, viewing their Space Settlement Design Contest poster presentations, and posing for group photos with the winners. Here is Dr. Thorne with a winning team from Romania.

The ISDC, which brings together and engages students, scientists, business leaders, space industry stakeholders, families, policy makers and people from all walks of life, is held annually at different locations. This year it will be held at the surprisingly inexpensive location of San Juan, Puerto Rico! By attending ISDC Puerto Rico, you’ll be able to meet a whole new batch of winning space settlement students, the latest Space Pioneer Award winners like Pluto New Horizon’s Alan Stern, NASA center director Elen Ochoa, and Blue Origin’s president Rob Meyerson.

Here’s a quick look of what the ISDC 2016 holds for its attendees:

When asked during an interview at the ISDC how pleased Dr. Thorne was to see that this type of conference, exists, he replied, “Well I think it’s very wonderful, particularly getting the young people involved around the world and being an inspiration for them. It’s very important for the future of science and the future of space.”

About the Gravity Wave Discovery

On February 11, 2016, a team of four physicists using LIGO announced that they had heard and recorded in September 2015 the gravitational wave motion of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light-years away. The announcement team included Kip Thorne, David Reitze, Gabriela González, and Rainer Weiss.

Gravity waves

This is the first time scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime, called gravitational waves, arriving at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. Dr. Thorne’s work has dealt with the prediction of gravity-wave strengths and their temporal signatures as observed on Earth. Dr. Thorne cofounded the LIGO Project in 1984 to discern and measure any fluctuations between two or more ‘static’ points on Earth. Such fluctuations would be evidence of gravitational waves. The specter of gravitational waves will show us the universe in a brand new light.

“With this discovery, we humans are embarking on a marvelous new quest: the quest to explore the warped side of the universe — objects and phenomena that are made from warped spacetime. Colliding black holes and gravitational waves are our first beautiful examples,” says Dr. Thorne.

NSS congratulates Professor Kip Thorne and the entire LIGO team for the confirmed detection of Gravitational Waves and his support of the National Space Society, it’s ISDCs, and projects like Enterprise In Space!

NSS Pays Tribute to Late NSS Governor Dr. Marvin Minsky, A Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence

Marvin MinskyThe National Space Society pays tribute to Dr. Marvin Minsky, a pioneer of artificial intelligence, who served as a long-time member of the NSS Board of Governors, and was involved in the original merger of the L5 Society and the National Space Institute to create the National Space Society.  Dr. Minsky was very involved in early NSS activities and was part of many NSS space policy projects such as the 1981 “Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy.” He attended Board of Governors meetings and participated in NSS’s annual International Space Development Conference®. He died on January 14 in Boston from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 88 years old.

Marvin was also the thesis advisor for current NSS Governor K. Eric Drexler, a pioneer in the field of nanotechnology and an early activist who helped start NSS.

Hugh Downs, Chair of the NSS Board of Governors, said, “Marvin Minsky was a bright light in the arena of accelerating knowledge in modern physics. Where many of us plodded along to keep up with these changes, he seemed to always manage to be even with them. He will be sorely missed by those who worked with him and knew him well.”

Marvin Minsky was Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research led to both theoretical and practical advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, neural networks, the theory of Turing Machines and recursive functions. He made other contributions in the domains of graphics, symbolic mathematical computation, knowledge representation, computational semantics, machine perception, and both symbolic and connectionist learning. He was also involved with advanced technologies for exploring space.

In October 2015, the MIT Media Lab presented Marvin with a gift in honor of his lifetime commitment to MIT students. “What a beautiful thing. What does it do?” he asked, when studying the world’s first 3D-printed clear glass object. View the presentation here:

The report from the Citizens Advisory Council, in which Marvin participated, was titled Space: The Crucial Frontier and includes this preamble:

“Space is potentially our most valuable national resource. A properly developed space program can go far toward restoring national pride while developing significant and possibly decisive military and economic advantages. In exploring space we will rediscover frontiers and more than frontiers; we can rediscover progress. The exploitation of space will have far reaching historical significance. The statesmen who lead mankind permanently to space will be remembered when Isabella the Great and Columbus are long forgotten.” (

Today, NSS is vigorously promoting our expansion into space.  We are engaging with the international community via collaborations, tracks at our annual International Space Development Conference, and articles in Ad Astra and in major international publications. NSS volunteers today maintain the Space Settlement Nexus ( in carrying forward Marvin Minsky’s vision.

California Aerospace Days 2016 in Sacramento

On Tuesday, March 1, 12 noon to 5 pm, a number of Aerospace companies will have corporate exhibits and information about their STEM programs on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento as a part of California Aerospace Days. The Sacramento Chapter of NSS is supporting this event.

Participating exhibitors including Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be present as well, highlighting their 20 years of seeking “Exoplanets” and the Juno mission’s arrival at Jupiter. There will also be a flight simulator.


  • 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Public viewing of Aerospace Exhibition on West Steps
  • 1:00 – 1:45 PM: Importance and Promotion of Advanced Technology Start-ups and Small Businesses
  • 2:00 – 2:45 PM: Comprehensive Briefing on Aerospace Economic Study – Los Angeles EDC & San Diego EDC
  • 3:00 – 3:45 PM: Issues and Challenges Facing Aerospace Suppliers
  • 4:00 – 4:45 PM: FAA & NASA Briefing on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drone) integration into the National Airspace System

International Space Development Conference (ISDC) 2016

The National Space Society invites you to come to ISDC 2016, where you’ll be immersed in bleeding-edge technologies and bold business models, rub shoulders with astronauts, and meet those able to help accelerate your own efforts to reach beyond borders…and beyond Earth.

The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the preeminent gathering place for people all around the world who seek to accelerate our pursuits beyond Earth. The conference brings together aerospace-industry leaders and startups, space exploration pioneers, academic thought leaders, and space supporters young and old – all united by a common goal to explore and develop space for the benefit of humankind.

With a theme of “Space Beyond Borders,” ISDC 2016 will be held in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. International attendees will engage with a young, bilingual, educated, local workforce eager to increase its engagement in global space development efforts. Our theme also celebrates the increasingly collaborative, multidisciplinary, and interconnected nature of space development in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, “Space Beyond Borders” presents current space programs, cutting-edge aerospace technology and innovative projects and features astronauts and other pioneers.


Luxembourg to launch framework to support the future use of space resources

The Luxembourg Government has announced a series of measures to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources. Amongst the key steps undertaken will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) such as asteroids.

Luxembourg is the first European country to announce its intention to set out a formal legal framework which ensures that private operators working in space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract, i.e. rare minerals from asteroids. Such a legal framework will be worked out in full consideration of international law. Luxembourg is eager to engage with other countries on this matter within a multilateral framework.

Luxembourg will also invest in relevant R&D projects and consider direct capital investment in companies active in this field.

The initiative will nurture an exciting and entirely new space industry. This industry will offer unprecedented access to mineral resources to be used essentially in Earth-orbit and beyond. The aim is to stimulate economic growth on Earth and offer new horizons in space exploration.

Luxembourg already has a strong track record in related sectors, with satellite operator SES, established in Luxembourg 30 years ago and now a major global player in its field.

The budget allocated to will be part of the national space budget that will be defined in the frame of the preparation of the Luxembourg contribution to the next multiannual budget of the European Space Agency to be decided in December 2016. The government will decide on new means for a wide range of new activities and initiatives, including this one.

Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider, announced the initiative today:”Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats. We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg. At first, our aim is to carry out research in this area, which at a later stage can lead to more concrete activities in space.”

Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) and advisor to Luxembourg Government on, said:”This initiative is a clear demonstration that Europeans are innovative and able to take risks when the stakes are high. While futuristic, the project is based on solid grounds, i.e. technical prowess that already exists in Europe and around the world.”

Simon P. Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation said:”Humanity is on the verge of expansion into the solar system – and then beyond. Using the resources we find there is essential – not only for our expansion into space but also to ensure continued prosperity here on Earth.”

Rick Tumlinson, Co-founder and Chair of the Board of Deep Space Industries stated:”By opening up the resources of space, Luxembourg will help take the pressure off the Earth.”

Chris Lewicki, President and CEO of Planetary Resources stated:”We commend the Government of Luxembourg in leading the world by establishing this new resource industry, thereby enabling the economic development of near-Earth asteroid resources. Planetary Resources looks forward to working with Luxembourg.”

Karim Michel Sabbagh, President and CEO of SES stated:”We welcome Luxembourg’s visionary initiative to take, once again, a pioneering step in space technology and further leverage our shared knowledge and experience. We look forward to contributing with our unique capabilities to these future activities.”

Yves Elsen, Chairperson of the Luxembourg Space Cluster stated:”Over the past three decades, Luxembourg has built up extensive know-how in world-class space related activities. Luxembourg can write history once again by further sustaining the attractiveness of the country for a host of next generation space activities.”


Settling Space Is the Only Sustainable Reason for Humans to Be in Space

OPINION by Dale Skran, National Space Society Executive Vice President
This article appeared in The Space Review, February 1, 2016

As robotic and artificial intelligence technologies improve and enable increasingly robust exploration without a human presence, eventually there will be only one sustainable reason for humans to be in space: settlement. Research into the recycling technology required for long-term off-Earth settlements will directly benefit terrestrial sustainability. Actively working toward developing and settling space will make available mineral and energy resources for use on Earth on a vast scale. Finally, space settlement offers the hope of long-term species survival that remaining on Earth does not.

Orbital Space Settlement Interior

However, a recent essay by Astro Teller, head of Google X Labs, and his wife Danielle, a physician and researcher takes the bold position that “It’s completely ridiculous to think that humans could live on Mars.” This essay, published by Quartz, repeats with little examination some of the hoariest arguments against space settlement. To support this view, the Tellers quote their 12-year-old daughter: “I can’t stand that people think we’re all going to live on Mars after we destroy our own planet.” This quote contains two mischaracterizations that demand refutation: that “we are all” going to live in space and that we are going to live in space after we destroy Earth. Another canard that has long floated about was given form by the recent film Elysium starring Matt Damon: the rich will leave the poor on the Earth and escape to space settlements. Upon examination, all three of these ideas are strawmen.

There are more than seven billion people on the Earth today. No rational space settlement advocate suggests that any significant portion of that population, or even of those who are rich, will be moving to Mars or anywhere else in space. Instead, we expect that relatively small numbers of highly qualified individuals, or those who are deeply dedicated to living in space, would form the first settlements. Over a significant period of time, thousands more from the Earth would join those settlements as they become increasingly self-sufficient. Over more time, various possible niches for settlement (Moon, Mars, asteroids, free space, etc.) will be occupied, and eventually the population in space will total many millions, most of whom will have been born in space.

So why then do Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and many others, including organizations like the National Space Society (NSS) and Alliance for Space Development, believe strongly that space settlement is essential to human survival? Although this may seem surprising, the Earth is not a “safe space.” The destiny of virtually all species on Earth is extinction in a relatively short span of geologic time. The Tellers claim that “we live on a planet that is perfect for us.” This statement is both completely true and total nonsense. We fit well on the Earth because we have evolved over millions of years to become creatures that are both adapted to live here and to like living here. It is truer to say that we are perfect for the Earth than the reverse.

In fact, the Earth is not such a commodious place. It is subject to periodic calamities of various sorts, ranging from massive asteroid and comet impacts to titanic volcanic eruptions, and from periodic ice ages to disastrous solar flares. In the short run, the Earth seems balmy and comfortable. Viewed from the perspective of deep time, it starts to look more like a death trap, bedeviled by regular mass extinctions.

However, things are actually quite a bit worse. Although there are many potentially bad things that might happen to the human race on the Earth from natural sources, there are many more from unnatural sources. We have been dancing with nuclear disaster for a long time. An apocalyptic atomic war is not inevitable, but it is possible. Add to this scenario the genetically engineered killer virus, “gray goo,” a robot revolt, and other horrors as yet undreamt, and the odds against human survival get longer.

Hence, the need to abandon the fiction of Earth as our eternal and unchanging perfect home and to appreciate both the need for, and promise of, space settlement. Not so the rich can escape to an Elysium in the sky, or so we can all leave behind a polluted and overheated Earth, but simply so that the human species and human culture has a chance at surviving and flourishing in the long term.

The Tellers write, “We haven’t even colonized the Sahara desert, the bottom of the oceans… because it makes no economic sense.” This may be true, but it also makes no sense to settle the Sahara desert, the bottom of the oceans, or Antarctica since these locations are on the Earth, and humans living there will not increase the probability of species survival.

Near-Earth free space settlements and lunar bases are just stepping stones to ones much further out that are quarantined from Earth by millions of kilometers of vacuum. Once the motivation of species survival is put front and center, it becomes clear that a settlement in low Earth orbit, on the Moon, at L5, or on the Martian surface is not nearly sufficient. What is needed is a large set of thriving communities distributed throughout the solar system, and even ultimately in the Oort Cloud surrounding the solar system proper. This vision is not a small thing. It will be the work of many generations, just as was the settling of the New World or, even earlier in history, the human diaspora out of Africa along the Asian coast to Australia and beyond.

The Tellers believe that sustainability on the Earth has no relationship to what we do in space, but the same technologies that enable deep space settlement will have a profound impact on terrestrial sustainability. Space settlements, of necessity, push the limits of food production per square meter and per liter of water. Space settlement agricultural methods can also be applied to growing food in parched California or in vertical farms in crowded urban areas.

Space settlements require humans and technology to co-exist in close proximity. This implies an absolute minimization of pollution and sustained recycling of all waste. Such technologies seem highly applicable to sustainability on Earth as well. We will need to provide the best possible medical care for remote space settlements, which will be far from hospitals on Earth. The technologies that make such medicine effective—“tricorders,” telemedicine, and so on—can also bring medical care to underdeveloped and underserved areas of the Earth.

The Tellers raise the specter of “winter-over syndrome” in the Antarctic, writing that “living on Mars would be way, way more miserable than living in Antarctica,” and concluding, “Nobody wants to live there.” Although it is clear that the Tellers will not be going, the large numbers who signed up for Mars One’s sketchy settlement plans suggest that a lot of people do want to live on Mars. There are real challenges to constructing space settlements, but current Antarctic bases are not true settlements. Nobody lives there with their families, with the exception of the coastal Esperanza Base, where about ten families routinely winter over. No real effort is made to create any kind of human environment that is comfortable over a long period of time. Conditions in Antarctica might be better compared to living in a campground than a self-sustaining settlement. Additionally, the current Antarctic Treaty essentially prevents any extraction or use of the natural resources found there, thus making economically independent settlements infeasible.

Let us not shy from the truth. Conditions in the early settlements in the New World were difficult at best, and the casualty rate was high. We should expect the same to hold true for early space settlements. However, Jamestown and Plymouth gave rise to vast cities and a tamed landscape on a scale of hundreds of years. We now bring to the table technological means that would seem magical to the Jamestown settlers. Even as difficult an environment as the Moon can be developed and settled using technology that either exists currently or is an engineering project, as one book suggests (The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Settlement).

The Tellers think that, from an economic perspective, “Mars has nothing to offer in return.” Here, at least in the short run, they have a point. Although Mars may have more of the natural resources a settlement will need than, say, the Moon, it is at the bottom of a fairly steep gravity well and, for the time being, it is not likely that there will be many Mars-to-Earth exports. However, this is like looking at the resources of the New World via a keyhole, seeing a swamp, and reporting back that there is no point in going there. It is worth keeping in mind the example of “Seward’s Folly.” The purchase of Alaska from Russia was mocked as “Seward’s icebox” and a “polar bear garden.” At the time, the oil and mineral riches of Alaska were undiscovered and undreamt of.

Space itself teems with valuable resources, including continuous and abundant solar energy and mineral wealth on a scale beyond imagination just in the near Earth asteroids (see the book Asteroid Mining 101: Wealth for the New Space Economy). Just as the Tellers were dismissing space resources as irrelevant, the US Congress was laying the legal groundwork for asteroid and lunar mining with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, signed by President Obama on November 23, 2015. The Tellers also seem unaware that their leadership at Google, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, are investors in the asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources.

The Tellers say that “we won’t survive [on Earth] unless we learn to live in a resource neutral way.” This statement assumes that that Earth is a closed system, which it is not. The Earth is flooded daily with vast amounts of solar energy that, if exploited, could power just about any civilization we wish to maintain (see the book The Case for Space Solar Power). There is no technical limitation to providing continuous, carbon-free power from space solar power satellites beaming power back to the surface of the Earth anywhere it might be needed. The main opposition to this idea derives from an unwillingness to consider centralized power systems on ideological grounds, combined with the unexpected reality of very cheap natural gas today. Even the most conservative consideration of near-Earth asteroid resources suggests that there is no reason to view the Earth as a closed system to which nothing can be added.

The time for the settlement of Mars will come, but first we need to build on our success in developing the resources of Earth orbit, in the form of navigation, Earth observation, communication, and weather satellites, by fully developing the economic potential of the Earth-Moon system. Space settlements must flow out of the development of the economic resources of space if they are to be sustainable in the long term. NSS has developed a complete description of milestones toward the development of space settlements.

A key first step toward space settlement is ensuring a gapless transition from the existing International Space Station to commercially owned and operated LEO space stations as described in the NSS position paper “Next Generation Space Stations.” Next will come the development of the resources of the Moon and nearby asteroids leading to the creation of a self-sustaining Earth-Moon economy. Once we have established an asteroid-Earth-Moon economy that makes the resources found in this region fully available for projects ranging from the construction of solar power satellites to fueling future Mars missions, trips to Mars will be far less of a reach than they are today.

In view of the above, Astro Teller was probably right to turn down the “space cadet” who wanted Google X to spend money on Mars settlement. Currently Google’s money would be better spent in low Earth orbit, among the asteroids, and on the Moon, joining forces with the growing number of entrepreneurs seeking their fortunes in space. But wait—Google is doing exactly that by sponsoring the Google Lunar X PRIZE to encourage private groups to send landers to the Moon, and investing $900 million in Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Given that corporate Google (now Alphabet) has just made a massive investment in a company founded to settle Mars, the Tellers’ essay sounds a bit like sour grapes. In any case, the Tellers are completely wrong in their disregard of the potential economic benefits of space development and the underlying motivation for space settlement.